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Dealing with loneliness on an extended solo trip

Hi all. I have the “champagne problem” of being in Zurich for a month, staying at a friends’ place, taking lots of wonderful day trips but getting a bit lonely. Is there a way to find people who speak English, to connect with? I am an active middle aged female and a lot of the “Meet Up” and other social media platforms seem to be geared toward millennials.
Thank you.

Posted by
190 posts

When visiting areas of Europe where there are few tourists, it's pretty common to not find much in the way of English speakers. For example, I live in a small town in rural France and probably know every English speaker in the immediate area -- there just aren't that many. But when I go to a touristy place like Beaune, for example, I'm amazed by how much English I hear being spoken on the street and in restaurants. So, my suggestion, if it is possible for you, would be to seek out sites or areas that are tourist attractions. You're more likely to encounter English speakers there and, perhaps, your knowledge of the area that you've gained during your stay might be very welcome.

English speakers are pretty common in Geneva, but that could be because of the heavy UN agency presence.

Posted by
106 posts

Thank you for your suggestion, Sammy.
I am a bit shy by nature, so it’s difficult to just approach people and try to establish a connection.

Posted by
2483 posts

Hi, Packy. I am an anxious introvert who is not likely to strike up spontaneous conversations with others -- at home or abroad. I spent nearly a month traveling around Slovenia by myself. I found some small group activities to do that lent themselves to interaction -- e.g., an English-speaking food tour in Ljubljana with a group of 6 others -- three sets of couples, but all were happy to engage in conversation with me. I'm not sure how COVID-19 is impacting things like that.

A more expensive proposition I did was to hire some private guides to visit sites, particularly those that lent themselves to needing a guide -- this would be more expensive in Switzerland than in Slovenia.

Another idea is to check out the Show Around website (https://www.showaround.com/). I have not used it, but its purpose appears to be to connect visitors with locals who can "show them around" -- some offer to do it for free, some charge. It's something I considered for a solo trip to Bosnia later this year, but I ended up going in another direction. There are 189 people listed for Zurich. For a nearby day trip to a nearby place like Lucerne, there are 36 people listed in that city.

Posted by
3789 posts

Can you Skype/FaceTime with someone at home to help?
I normally suggest looking for groups with similar hobbies, but that may be a little more difficult during covid and wanting English speaking, but you could try.
Also, see if there is an Expat Facebook page for the area, and they may recommend some cafe or area English folk hang out. Or an expat website like International Living sometimes discusses areas to live but also where you may find folks hanging out.
Alternatively join an English walking tour.
A month may be a long time outside a familiar surrounding and if it isn't in your nature to just chat up your neighbour's on the bus at home, it may be more challenging abroad. But hopefully with more time and energy on your hands, you can set up a successful scenario.

Posted by
4679 posts

Do your friends you are staying with not have any suggestions? An English speaking walking tour seems to be a good idea.

I don’t know what life’s like in Zurich at present, but due to Covid, there’s no way that I would strike up a long conversation in the U.K. with someone I didn’t know, which maybe one issue you have. I am barely spending any time with my friends.

Posted by
193 posts

When I travel alone, I try to add some guided tours to my itinerary. And in the spirit of Dave's recommendation of Show Around, I recommend the Greeters program. I've done tours with the a few times. They are usually one-on-one, and you have a real conversation while learning about the city.

Posted by
1084 posts

Maybe get out and don't stay at your friends place? Can you stay in a hostel (I don't know if there is an age limit) I hear they are super inclusive and may have other solo travelers. I have never stayed in one BUT I did wonder into one in San Francisco to rest and because I was hot and lost. Everyone was very friendly and they seemed open to conversation. You already have a topic to talk about, your all traveling and that transcends age. You may find Millennials are not as bad as you thought! At that SF Hostel I actually joined a walking tour of the city that was announced in the lobby, I just got up and joined and I had so much fun and I struck up conversations with others in the group and I am an introvert.

Posted by
1009 posts

I would go to a meet up. There are usually 40-50 year olds too.

Go on a Munich English language walk. You can usually meet people there.
Sadly, we are still in COVID land so I doubt many older people will want to do things with strangers if they don’t know you’re vaccinated.

Your friend should have suggestions.

Posted by
2484 posts

Take a day tour. Food tours are great for this, the type where a local guide walks a group of 5-10 people to a variety of restaurants or bars to try local foods. Yes, many of the other guests will be with their travel partner, but people tend to be social with the full group on these. I’ve done them in several places, once alone, and always had a great time. I’ve never been to Zurich so can’t say what’s available specifically but look into it!

Posted by
3746 posts

My normal activities that I do periodically when I’m traveling solo in Europe are to take city bike tours (easy-going type), food tours, cooking classes or photography classes.

In the evening, I talk to a person back home on FaceTime, and I also post a few photos on FB with a short commentary (friends have requested this, and they reply on the post for some online conversations).

Also, maybe try a new hobby - watercolor pens sketching perhaps? Or go to any outdoor events, just to not feel stuck inside.

Returning to the same cafe for your morning coffee can at least make you feel like you’re seeing familiar faces, too.

Posted by
7864 posts

Jean just mentioned what I was going to suggest… a cooking class. They’re fun and friendly.

Posted by
784 posts

I am a bit shy by nature, so it’s difficult to just approach people and try to establish a connection.

This is the bigger part of the problem.

I spent more than thirty years working in and around Zürich and it’s pretty hard to find people who don’t at least speak some English. When a Swiss tells you their English is not very good, it just means they did not get straight As in it at school.

Swiss people are reserved, so you will need to take the initiative. At one point I had an Irish friend (RIP), staying with me here for a month or so and he had no problem finding people to talk to, have coffee with, even dinner on a few occasions. He would just walk up to people: hi who is it going?, what is happening? Etc…

Give it a go, the worst that can happen is they’ll just put you down as an annoying foreigner ;-)

Posted by
3317 posts

Packy, you are welcome to make us on the forum “part of your trip.” You can post updates here on the forum and I promise we will interact with you!

I usually add a few guided day tours into the mix for solo travel. I’ve met some pleasant people doing this. If striking up a conversation with a complete stranger seems intimidating, and I understand why this can be, try a docent at a museum. They want to interact with the public.

Posted by
1719 posts

Look for websites and organizations that are geared to ex-pats. I found some for Austria, I'm sure CH has them as well.

Posted by
933 posts

In my opinion, traveling solo is the best way to go. Why? Because you meet so many more people than when you’re traveling with someone.
A lot of people are alone. When it comes to a restaurant, I sit at the bar or at the “single table” when I tell the host there’s one in my party.
While riding public transport, you have an extra seat and someone will sit next to you. I doubt you’ll come across non-English speakers throughout most of CH.
As happy hour approaches and I’ve completed my sight-seeing for the day, I find a table outdoors where a couple have a table to themselves with extra chairs. If they’re sitting there people watching I ask if I can join them. They always say yes. This will probably be your best trip yet. Trust me, the fact that you're a middle aged American traveling alone will be make interesting conversation.

Posted by
901 posts

Looks like there are a few Meetups in Zurich that might be worth a try such as the hiking or language exchange. I know that here in the DC area that Meetups attract a range of ages unless targeted to specific age groups—and the name of the group and any posted photos provide a clue as to the age range.

Posted by
1418 posts

I think you have received a ton of excellent suggestions. I travel solo more than I do with others, and I love it. I've done many of the kinds of things suggested by others in their responses to your question.

I would add just one other bit of advice: write. Journal about your experiences. Write about what you are seeing, but also about what you are feeling when you are alone.

I have gotten a lot of value from writing when traveling alone. I've learned a lot about myself, and also gotten clearer insights into the places I go. Plus, sometimes people will ask me what I'm writing, and that opens up the opportunity for conversation and making new friends.

Posted by
106 posts

Wow. I feel less alone already :)
Many good suggestions here. Thank you for taking the time to respond and share your personal experiences and advice.
I will definitely start with one of the guided tours.

Posted by
489 posts

Go to a cafe called Mame (pronounced as "Ma Mei"). There are two locations in Zurich. The co-owners are respectively the world barista champion and world's brewer's cup champion. This is one of the top cafes in the world for third-wave coffee lovers.

Plenty of expats and locals alike hang out there. You may even bump into me.

Posted by
1231 posts

Packy, thank you for starting this topic. I will be traveling solo for the first time more that half my Sept 2022 trip, prior to and after the RS South of France tour. Everyones' suggestions are very helpful and have given me more confidence. I'm sure I will get tired of my own company so have added walking tours and food tours to my itinerary.

Posted by
106 posts

Horsewoofie, I am glad this thread is of value to you.
Your arrangement looks ideal to me—group tour bookended by the solo portions—as you will have a “break” from your own company right in the middle.

As others have echoed here, solo travel really is wonderful 90% of the time. You are in complete, no-negotiations-required control 100% of the time. Rest when you want, see what you want, etc. Now, I’m a mother of two teens, so this freedom may not be as sublime to you if you’re not engaged in daily “Middle East peace talks” at home.

And update: yesterday I attended a Meet Up knitting club here in Zurich. I spent the day before shopping for supplies and cram-teaching myself how to knit via You Tube. Only one person showed up, but she was a kind and warm Swiss local and I had a nice two hour chat with her while also receiving knitting pointers. She shared a beginner scarf pattern with me and so I now have a project to work on during my train day trips, as well as an awesome souvenir of my time spent here. She also said that knitting on the train can be a good icebreaker.

Posted by
1264 posts

Package, two thumbs up for diving into the knitting class, ,and two compassionate sighs for your work at home modeling negotiation with your kids